Credit: CB Wilkins, gondeee.com

Pitchers who could emerge in 2014


The Atlanta Braves were recently noted by Baseball HQ’s podcast as an organization that you want to have your young fantasy pitcher come from if you’re in a dynasty league.  Their starting rotation in 2014 will reflect that, as the team is very deep in starters with guys like Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Brandon Beachy, and David Hale all homegrown players that will compose the starting rotation in 2014.  Add in Gavin Floyd when he returns from surgery, and you have 7 viable candidates for 5 rotation spots.  While this is a wonderful problem to have for most teams, it does limit what the Braves’ vaunted development system can introduce to the league as far as starting pitchers in 2014.  So if we see an introduction of a young arm in 2014, it will likely come in the bullpen.  This is a quick overview of a list of young arms in the Braves system that could have a major impact on the 2014 team if put into the right role (these are by alphabetical order, not by any prediction on who will be most likely to impact).  Our own Chris Headrick wrote up a piece on Gus Schlosser, one player who would be on this list, but you can see what Chris has to say about Gus as he spent way more time on him than I would have here!

Matt Chaffee, LHP – Chaffee was a late pick (19th round) of the Braves in 2011 after a successful season closing for the University of Arizona.  He overcame two significant injuries in college, Tommy John surgery and a broken ankle from a car accident, which is part of why he slipped to the 19th round.  Chaffee is a hard-throwing lefty, but he has yet to climb above advanced-A ball.  He has the sort of stuff that if he could harness it, he could ascend quickly and become a late-inning force for the Braves, as noted by his career 11 k/9.  If he struggles to work against both sides, he could be a very effective LOOGY.

J.R. Graham, RHP – Graham was a 2011 4th round pick of the Braves from Santa Clara University.  Passed over by a number of teams because of his size (generously listed at 5’10), he did nothing in his first two years but ascend quickly up the Braves’ minor league system with a dominating mix of good control and a heavy sinking fastball with great movement.  2013 was a lost season for Graham as he battled shoulder woes before finally calling it quits on the season to rehab his sprained shoulder.  Graham has an excellent sinker along with triple-digit velocity straight fastball, so if he ends up moving from a starter to a reliever, he could certainly be a dominant one.  His path to the majors may be slowed this season due to the team wanting to see if he can return to the dominating starter he was in 2012 before moving him to the bullpen, but if he makes that move, he should be expected to dominate in the role and move quickly to the big league club.

Credit: Karl Moore, milb.com

Credit: Karl Moore, milb.com

Ryne Harper, RHP – Harper is a great story as yet another 2011 draft pick, but even later than Chaffee, as he was selected in the 37th round from Austin Peay mainly on the legs of Braves scout LeBon Joye pushing for his former college teammate’s son to be drafted.  The Braves have reaped the benefits ever since.  Harper is a two-pitch pitcher with a 94 mph fastball and a slider that has reportedly gained much more action since becoming pro.  Harper does lose some control on the pitch at times, but if he can put forth a season like he did in AA in 2013 (1.79 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9), he’ll definitely have a shot at the majors quickly.  Harper’s biggest issue is losing touch on that slider, which can get driven hard when it doesn’t break, leading to streaks where he’ll give up big hits, like he did in May of last season.

James Hoyt, RHP – Hoyt’s story is a bit akin to Brandon Beachy, though Hoyt spent two years spinning his craft in Independent League ball before being signed by the Braves after a 2012 season where Hoyt pitched in three leagues, including the Mexican League.  Hoyt has a very projectable 6’5 frame, and he throws as you’d expect with a 94-96mph fastball that reportedly has touched 98 with a dominating slider.  He’s not passed AA yet and is already 27, but much of the age-to-level thing has to do with a lot of the nuances a new draftee would have worked on already like pick-off moves, holding runners, and defensive awareness.  Hoyt put up over a strikeout per inning in AA, and if he keeps picking up the little stuff, his overpowering pitches will lead him to an audition in Atlanta sooner rather than later. (Little trivia: When you look up Hoyt’s name at baseball-reference.com, the first major league name that comes up is James Hoyt Wilhelm, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who went by his middle name.)

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Jadofsky, RHP – Yet another undrafted gem from the Braves front office, Jadofsky signed as a free agent after the 2011 draft out of West Florida.  Jadofsky has a nice 6’3 power frame that you’d expect a 95mph fastball to come from, but instead he typically sits in the 88-90 range, though with notable sinking action.  He’s most known for a killer curveball that he can lose the feel for rather quickly.  This may not seem like the type of guy to highlight here, but the results are what are simply hard to ignore.  He’s only made it to high-A ball and will likely start the season back there, but the reports on his curveball and command are strong enough that he could be the type of guy to quickly jump up the ladder in a ROOGY role.  Thus far, he’s put up nearly a strikeout per inning while walking less than 3 bb/9.  If he can continue that success up the ladder, he could be a useful piece of a bullpen.

Mark Lamm, RHP – Stop me if you heard this one before: Lamm was a 2011 draftee of the Braves, in the 6th round out of Vanderbilt.  Lamm slipped some in the draft process because of Tommy John surgery, but even then, some thought the Braves may have reached on him in the draft.  Lamm has a great 6’4, 230-lb frame that pumps out a solid fastball, but he’s more known for his changeup and slider.  His biggest issue has been command, though he’s yet to spend a full season at any level, so part of that could be ironed out by seeing how he does staying at one level with one catcher for a full season.  He’ll likely get that at AAA Gwinnett this year, where he pitched 18 games last season and struck out nearly a batter per inning.

Cody Martin, RHP – Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Martin was a 7th round pick in the 2011 draft by the Braves out of Gonzaga.  Martin was a college closer, but the Braves moved him to the rotation in his first full season in 2012.  The results were excellent, as Martin posted a 2.93 ERA with 10.3 k/9 in high-A in 2012.  He followed that up in 2013 by jumping all the way to AAA and posting a combined 3.16 ERA with 9 k/9 and 3.8 bb/9.  Martin’s control was much worse this season than his previous two, but his previous numbers show he has the ability to work well in the strike zone.  He’ll likely be in AAA as a starter, but his experience out of the bullpen could lead to him filling a hole in Atlanta in the pen if one would arise.

Credit: Ed Gardner, Mississippi Braves courtesy photo

Credit: Ed Gardner, Mississippi Braves courtesy photo

Shae Simmons, RHP – Simmons is a diminutive righty that the Braves secured in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft from Southeast Missouri State.  Simmons is only listed at 5’9, and many have stated that to be generous.  That said, he simply blew away batters all of 2013, including in the Arizona Fall League against some of the best prospects in the game.  Simmons reminds me a lot of Craig Kimbrel, not in that he leans over before every pitch, but that he has control issues in the minors, but he seems to dial them down every time he’s put into a tough situation.  Kimbrel sported a 5.7 bb/9 ratio in the minors, but has a 3.2 bb/9 ratio in the majors.  Simmons has a similar dominance, but he even has better control numbers with 4.4 bb/9 in his minor league career thus far.  Simmons is a good bet to knock on the door of the major leagues this season, whether it’s out of camp or mid-summer, but he could certainly be insurance against Kimbrel getting too expensive after 2014.

Ian Thomas, LHP – Yet another one of Frank Wren’s brilliant free agent signings, Thomas spent three seasons in Independent League ball before the Braves signed him early in 2012.  His scouting reports are mixed, some reporting low-90s fastball with lots of sinking action to go with a slider and a change, and I even found one report of him throwing a splitter rather than a change.  Regardless of what he throws, the report is that Thomas hides the ball very well to both sides of the plate as hitters had identical .192 BAA against him in 2013.  Thomas moved from the bullpen to the AA rotation in 2013, and he excelled in that role.  While already 27 in the first month of the 2014 season, Thomas has quickly jumped up the ladder such that it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he’s the one name off of this list that starts the season in the majors, especially until Jonny Venters returns.  Keep an eye on him in spring as you might see him jump from AA to the majors based on how he handles spring training.

In retrospect, I could have simply done a write-up on the Braves’ 2011 draft, but one of the things noticeable throughout this writing is that there isn’t a single first round pick mentioned here.  The Braves have a reputation for finding “diamonds in the rough”, and most of this list can be considered exactly that!

Tags: Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Take

  • cothjrr24

    The Braves do have that reputation of finding diamonds in the rough, however I’d rather them have the reputation of drafting well in the upper-rounds, of which they have lost in the last half-decade.

    • Benjamin Chase

      I’m not sure about that. Mike Minor was five years ago, Matt Lipka looks like a miss, Sean Gilmartin was just used to acquire a potentially valuable piece to the offensive mix, and Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh are highly-regarded prospects. That’s the last half decade.

      The previous five years netted Jason Heyward, but not much else. The five years preceding that produced Jarrod Salatalamacchia and Joey Devine, and five years before that produced Jeff Francoeur, Dan Meyer, and Macay McBride.

      Since 2000, the Braves have drafted first round players who have contributed 80.3 bWAR in the majors. In the NL East, the comparisons run such: Marlins 47.2, Mets 84.5 (over half of that belonging just to David Wright), Nationals 67.1 (over half of that belonging to Ryan Zimmerman), Phillies 106.2 (though they haven’t had a first round player produce positive bWAR since Cole Hamels in 2002). I’d say the Braves are doing okay in the first round.

      • cothjrr24

        I consider upper-rounds the first 5 and here are the last 5 years of rounds (skipping ’13 as the prospects are way too fresh to make any sound judgment on their real prospect status) 1-5 for the Braves…
        ’08- Brett DeVall, Robert Stovall, Zeke Spruill, Craig Kimbrel, Braeden Schlehuber
        ’09- Mike Minor, David Hale, Mycal Jones, Thomas Berryhill, Ryan Woolley
        ’10- Matt Lipka, Todd Cunningham, Andrelton Simmons, Joe Leonard, David Filak
        ’11- Sean Gilmartin, Nick Ahmed, Kyle Kubitza, J.R. Graham, Nick DeSantiago
        ’12- Lucas Sims, Alex Wood, Bryan De La Rosa, Justin Black, Blake Brown
        In ’08′s first 5 rounds, we got the best closer in baseball and nothing to speak of from there.
        In ’09′s first 5 rounds, we got a quality SP the first round and, at best, a 5th starter out of the rest of the rounds.
        In ’10′s first 5 rounds, we got the best defensive SS in the game and nothing to speak of out of the rest of the rounds.
        In ’11′s first 5 rounds, we got a SP that we traded to acquire a 3rd catcher/bench player, and 2 potential 25-man roster guys, one a dominant reliever and one a backup infielder.
        In ’12′s first 5 rounds, we got, potentially, 2 SP and not sure if the rest will really amount to anything.
        Breakdown: If all goes as it seems right now, the Braves have drafted 5-6 players of 25 that will be players of impact in the last 5 years: 2-3 Starting pitchers, 1-2 relievers, a starting SS, and a closer.
        I don’t view this as drafting success…and from the ranking of our farm system (22nd), neither do the prospect gurus. And not to insult, but Jason Hursh isn’t a highly-regarded prospect by anyone but the Braves (missed out on all Top 100 prospect lists).

        • Lee Trocinski

          The problem is that you would have to look at other teams to really see if this is good, bad, or in between. It doesn’t seem good, but look at a respected organization like the Rays. They have no decent high draft picks since Price in ’07, and that’s counting their 10 picks of the first 60 overall in 2011. You would have to go through all the teams to properly evaluate drafting, and that’s just a lot of work.

          • Benjamin Chase

            I did a post on this in June called “Are the Braves really poor drafters?” or something to that effect where I reviewed all teams in the last 5 years and their drafting. The Braves were a top 5 team in WAR acquired via the draft in the last 5 years, and they were even better ranked when I went to 7 years for an inquiring mind who contacted me. Regardless of where they get them, the Braves find value.

          • cothjrr24

            I don’t disagree that the Braves were great drafters for quite a while and I still think the Braves are good. I just don’t think they’ve been good in the early rounds lately and, as I stated before, the Minor League rankings seem to agree.
            However, I’m intrigued by Caratini, Wren, Peraza, Elander, and La Stella.

        • Lee Trocinski

          Looking at just the ’08 draft, the Braves didn’t pick until #40. DeVall was a complete bust, but only 4 of the next 29 picks have made any sort of impact in the majors, and only Wade Miley has had multiple decent years.

          Spruill was part of the Upton package, and again, only 4 of the next 29 picks have done anything, and none have had more than one decent season. Danny Espinosa has been the best player of the bunch, and his 2013 was Uggla/Upton-esque.

          Obviously Kimbrel was a tremendous pick. Only Vance Worley and Brandon Crawford have been decent out of the next 29 picks. Schlueber won’t make it, while Kipnis, Daniel Hudson, and Justin Wilson were picked after him. Thompson was another bust, with Alex Avila as the only quality pick after him.

          Out of the 150 picks analyzed, only 15 have proven to be decent picks, and the Braves had one of them. I’d have to call that a decent draft, as at least half of the teams haven’t got anything from those picks.

          There’s the other side of minor league talent with the Latin signings, which haven’t gone well either. Bethancourt still has some hope, but he’s not the top prospect he was before. Salcedo has been well below expectations as the big bonus guy. Teheran had a great season last year, but I’m not sure how sustainable his performance is.

          Between mediocre Latin signings and mediocre low-slot American drafting, that’s how the system is now a bit below average.

      • fireboss

        Finding diamonds in the rough is more about the scouts than about Wren directly although it does feed his self image of spotting undervalued players and signing them better than anyone – he doesn’t BTW. Whether its waiver wire pickups like EOF or signings like Beachy the process is more like fishing with a seine that casting into a secret sport where you know the big fish lives.

        As to their first round success, it’s true David wright was over half of the Mets WAR from 1st round draft but McCann (25.3) and Heyward (18.4) are over half of the Braves WAR too. Not a significant difference.
        Prospects are prospects until they are more. When Hursh and Sims make it they’ll be a success.

        Minor and Gilmartion were chosen because as college guys they would be big league ready faster. A tactic other teams adopted in a pitching market so thin you can see through it and not necessarily bad if the choice is solid. Minor was Gilmartin was not. By the time the 2011 draft got to the Braves there were few standouts left but the Braves passed up Jackie Bradley and Brad Miller for Gilmartin. Picked as another Mike Minor he was never projected higher than a 5th starter at best.

        Gilmartin peaked in AA and has been going downhill ever since. The fact they a club took him means only that the player they traded wasn’t worth a lot to them or they were desperate for pitching. In this case both things are true.
        Salty was anything but a success for the Braves. He went to Texas who found out he was far from ready for prime time behind the plate and couldn’t play first base. Trips up and down finally resulted in a trip to Boston where he turned into an average catcher. That the Red Sox sat him down in the WS in favor of David Ross and then let him walk after the season highlights that he is replaceable.
        Francoeur had two and a half good years then vanished into a fourth outfielder role. He had a 3 WAR year in 2005 and 2007 with a 0.6 in between and a -1.7 in 2008. We got the forgettable Ryan Church for him. I have an autographed Church baseball if you want it, Joey Devine was the next great relief pitcher who turned into the next great flop.
        Dan Meyer’s contribution was as part of the Hudson trade, as a player he’s been underwhelming. he’s out of affiliated baseball now.
        Lipka was unrated by BA and the Braves took him instead of Noah Syndergaard and Taijuan Walker, Nick Castellanous and others.
        The Braves strategy of drafting pitching to trade doesn’t work if they don’t get good pitchers. They’ve modified it lately by adding a willingness to take on an arm that’s already had TJ surgery as a way of finding under valued draft picks. It’s been a success so far with Wood. Whether that continues to be true over time is unknown.
        Drafting is a lottery where playing the odds on the best available player is more likely to pay off than any other plan.

        • Benjamin Chase

          Brian McCann doesn’t figure into the Braves number I mentioned as he was a second round pick.

          • fireboss

            Yep my error. The guy you’re using is Adam Wainwright (26.4) who never threw a pitch for the Braves.
            According to my draft database (that goes back to 1965) and verified by Baseball Reference. the total WAR from Braves first round picks is 78.3. I assume the difference is that you didn’t deduct the negative WAR McBride, Thorman, Rasmus, and Meyer contributed.
            Draft picks WAR as a Braves players totaled 33.7
            Of 22 first round draft picks between 2000 and 2011, 12 actually saw major league time, ten have not nine are still active players at some level; Five in MLB – Heyward, Minor, Rasmus, Salty Johnson and Wainwright – and thee in MiLb Gilmartin, Lipka, Fenchy ) and 13 are no longer in affiliated ball.
            I did a series on the history of the draft back in 2012 examining all drafts and the Braves in particular. That 12 of 22 draftees reached the majors for at least a game is well above the 15% average going back to the beginning of the draft. Much of that is caused by the cost of signing players long term. The number that actually stuck in the majors for three yeas (7) is about 33% again higher than the historical average. The number that have had an impact above bench level (4) is 18.5% and still marginally above the long term average.
            Since I have the data I’ll update and the spreadsheets and and look at just the last 20 years. I’d guess that the time number and speed of prospects have both increased but it bears a look.
            Here are links to the old TT posts.

            http://tomahawktake.com/2012/03/07/a-look-at-the-braves-minor-league-systemprologue/
            http://tomahawktake.com/2012/03/12/how-the-braves-stock-the-minors-the-drafti/
            tomahawktake.com/2012/03/17/how-the-braves-stock-the-minors-part-iii-reviewing-past-drafts/
            http://tomahawktake.com/2012/03/21/braves-drafts-reviewed-2003-2007/

          • Benjamin Chase

            I did remove the negative values. I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Since 2000, I have 80.3 bWAR totaled on Baseball-Reference’s site of all Braves first round selections since 2000.

          • fireboss

            I’ll email you the spread but it isn’t that important. Saying Wright was half of the Mets War Implies that the Braves got a a bunch of contributors when Wainwright 26.4, Heyward 18.6 and Johnson 16.5 make up 8t% of the Braves 1st round draft WAR. Only Heyward produced double digit WAR in a Braves uniform. But as I said they do have a pretty good rate of getting people up.

  • rick staley

    benjamin: great read and thanks for stoking my fire that had died due to my bronco beatdown by dem crazy hawks!!

    • Benjamin Chase

      Thanks! Glad to do it!

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Freddy Garcia is raising his hand.

    • fireboss

      He may go to the toilet

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        He might… but at the least, he’s certainly gonna push the rest of the staff. Competition is a good thing.

        • Benjamin Chase

          He won’t be in the minors, though. He’ll either be in the majors or go elsewhere, from the way the contract reads.